My two-year old grandson Noah likes to have Santa stand alongside The Wise Men at our nativity scene. Noah knows that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. He also knows that birthdays are lots of fun. And Santa is the fun Christmas guy so why not make him part of the celebration? So we mix our fantasy with theology here. Or is it the other way around? Either way Santa has “come to adore Him” at our house.
Christmas is always a mixed bag. We embrace the secular (you know because we actually live in the world) and we exchange gifts and write letters to Santa and leave cookies and reindeer food and all the rest. And we go to Mass and sing and pray and shout the joy of our Savior’s birth. We we are a bi-celebratory family! If Noah is a little confused about where Santa belongs, it’s not surprising. And it’s also okay with me. Santa, a guy who is spreading love around like mad, is welcome in my home.
Our family usually plays a game on Christmas Eve called “Rob Your Neighbor” – everyone brings a few small gifts (some are gag gifts and some are treasures). All the gifts are beautifully wrapped, concealing their simplicity or beauty or hideousness. After all the gifts are doled out and unwrapped revealing their value or lack thereof we then roll dice to see who can “rob” the most from their “neighbor” until the time runs out. When the bell chimes what’s left is what you get. Often there is fevered excitement trying to obtain the few treasures amongst the cache of gifts.
This year we toyed with the idea of changing the game to “Love Your Neighbor” with the idea of giving the treasured gift(s) to another but that seemed a little lame for our family. We like our mercenary little game of theft and avarice. And there is always plenty of laughter while we’re fighting over the treasured items. And in our game we are loving one another in our own slightly twisted and aggressive sort of way.
This morning at Mass, Father Joe reminded us that God is love and that we will find that love in those sitting next to us in the pew. I looked at my family and I saw God there. Then Father Joe told us that God is in us. That was a little harder for me to imagine until my four-year old granddaughter Anna looked up at me and smiled her sweet innocent smile. I suppose she might have seen a little glimpse of God in this tired old sinner. And now I have a new responsibility to her and her brother and the rest of the world. God is in me??? That changes everything.
Tonight it occurred to me that if Santa can hang with the Wise Men and if God is in me then our silly little game BELONGS on Christmas Eve. It’s a celebration of our love. Everyone takes part and we all leave a little richer for the experience. God made us imperfect so that we can be perfected by His love. And if we play a few silly games along the way, so be it…